WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump insists he's enjoying his life off Twitter. The press releases his aides fire off on an increasingly frequent basis are more “elegant,” he says. Plus there's no risk of backlash for retweeting unsavory accounts.
But since Trump was barred from major social media channels after helping incite the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, his power to shape the national conversation is being tested.
Trump transformed from a reality television star to a politician and president by bending the tools of communication and the media to his will. He still connects with his supporters through his releases and appearances on Fox News and other conservative outlets, where he repeats misinformation about the 2020 election. And he remains a powerful force in the Republican Party, with a starring role Saturday at a Republican National Committee event at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
Still, the sway over American life he once enjoyed appears to be eroding — at least for now.
“It’ll never be the same for Trump unless he’s a candidate again," said Harold Holzer, an historian who is director of Hunter College's Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute and wrote a book about presidents and the press. “I don’t think it's unnatural for coverage to diminish. I'm sure it’s tough on his ego, given how much oxygen he sucks up and how much ink he generates, but it's not unnatural for an ex-president to get less attention.”
It's been a dramatic adjustment nonetheless. Trump’s tweets used to drive the news cycle, with CNN, MSNBC and Fox News often spending dozens of hours a week combined displaying his missives, according to a GDELT analysis of television news archives. Since he was barred from Twitter and other platforms, Trump can no longer speak directly to large swaths of his audience and must now rely on his supporters and conservative and mainstream media to amplify his messages.
To compensate for the ongoing blackout, Trump aides have been pumping out statements and endorsements that often sound just like the tweets he used to dictate. “Happy Easter to ALL, including the Radical Left CRAZIES who rigged our Presidential Election, and want to destroy our Country!” read one sent from his political action committee. (“Happy Easter!” was the more subdued version offered by his official government office.)
At the same time, Trump has been ramping up his appearances on conservative media — even sitting down with his daughter-in-law for her online program. But few of those comments have reverberated as mainstream outlets, long criticized for allowing Trump to dictate coverage, have become increasingly wary of repeating his falsehoods, especially pertaining to the 2020 election.